Once you have a completed first draft
Review the manuscript very carefully. Just because you have the wonderful gift of storytelling does not mean that you are also gifted with flawless grammar or age appropriate word choice. Be honest with yourself and ask if there are grammatical errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors or word choice errors that you just don't have sufficient skill to correct. If you feel that there might be sentence level problems, ask a professional if he or she will read your manuscript and mark it up. Explain that you want your manuscript to be free of basic writing mistakes before you move to the next steps. The best professionals to ask are retired teachers or librarians, but other professionals with good written English skills can also be very helpful. Ask if the person is willing to perform this task for a minimum fee such as a gift certificate to a restaurant or a book store. If you have no one willing and able to help you clear the manuscript of basic grammatical errors, consider hiring a writing consultant. You can jump directly to a professional editing service such as BookMakers, but it will add more rounds of edits to your overall costs.
When your manuscript has been marked up and returned to you, make all of the necessary changes.
Where are you in the process?
Once you are sure that your children's book or chapter book is complete, you are ready for the editing process. Preparing a book for publication can be frustrating for writers. At this point you must switch your focus from your creative expression to the needs and understanding of your audience. At this point, most writers find themselves saying, "Well I thought I was done until everyone else got a hold of my book."
What's next? Editor, Publisher, Agent?
Once you've shared your book with another reader, it's time to decide how many and what kind of illustrations your manuscript needs. While picture books are driven by the illustrations, children's books for beginning readers through fourth grade chapter books are driven by the writing. But until children move into young adult literature, illustrations help with overall comprehension. Beginning readers appreciate one illustration per two pages, while chapter books at the highest end of the reading scale usually have only one illustration at the beginning of each new chapter. If you are not sure how heavily your book should be illustrated, go to the children's section of the nearest public library or book store and review books targeted for the same age group as your story.
Once you've determined the general placement of illustrations, contact an illustrator.
Finding First Readers
Find three readers that you can trust to give you honest feedback. Ask these people if they will read the manuscript and give you both positive and negative feedback about the story itself. Find one person who reads children's books for work (teachers, librarians) and find two other readers such as parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles. If this is a chapter book, ask a middle school student if they will also help. Questions are available on this site to help the readers provide you with meaningful feedback.
Putting your feedback to use
Review the information that your readers have provided and begin to address their concerns. If you can't figure out how to address their concerns, consider taking a creative writing course. The first place to look for a solid and inexpensive course is your local community college. If you've already had those courses and you're just stuck, this would be another good time to consider hiring a writing consultant or writing coach for a few hours. Sometimes writers just need to talk the issue through; then, you can move forward again. Remember, if you go to an editor too soon, you will have to pay professional prices for work you might have been able to accomplish on your own. However, if you are truly stuck, hire a professional editing firm such as BookMakers.
It's time for a professional editor.
Whether or not you are going with an indie press, a traditional publisher, s self/subsidy publisher or you've chosen to be an indie author, your manuscript needs to be professionally edited FIRST. Most publishers, whether indie, self or traditional, expect to receive a polished manuscript before consideration. Editing staffs have been reduced, so publishers are relying more and more upon "mechanical" or "electronic" editing, especially for mid-list and first time authors. A software program is not going to help you work the kinks out of your novel and will not help you locate fatal flaws. You need people for this - trained, experienced people. A professional editor will work with you on content edits first. The first rounds of editing focus upon the clarity and flow of the content.
Did you say "the first rounds of editing?"
Yes. Start rewriting and making the changes until it's perfect again!
Then send it back to the editor. When your manuscript is ready, copy editing will begin. The best editing companies will use two people at the final stage of proofing to catch anything the first editor has missed. Once your manuscript is all that you ever dreamed it could be, you're ready for the submission process and eventual publication.